One Writer’s Journey

December 30, 2014

Creating New Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:15 am
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As writers, we struggle to find just the right word to get our point across.  After all, the character who cavorts is quite different from one who quakes.

Maybe this quest for just the right verbage is why I found this talk (see below) by lexicographer Erin McKean so interesting.  Hint, a lexicographer is someone who makes dictionaries, and that’s probably a big part of why McKean encourages people to create the words that they need to say what needs to be said.  New words and word usages keep her busy!

McKean gives us six ways to create new words in the English language:

Borrow from another language.  As we don’t tend to give these words back, McKean calls it what it is, stealing, but the linguistic term is borrow.  English is full of borrowed words — canyon and coyote.

Compounding is, rather obviously, creating compound words like bookmark, bookworm and bookplate.

Blending is similar to compounding but parts of the original words are dropped.  Motel has been part of our language for so long, that most of us have forgotten that it combined motor and hotel.  McKean is truly a fount of information.

Next comes the functional shift in which you change a word’s part of speech.  The most interesting example that McKean gave was commercial which used to be an adjective before it was used as a noun.

Back formation is a lot like blending but it is when you create a new word from part of a longer word.  Not sure what I mean?  The word editor came into use before the word edit (another of McKean’s examples).

Last but not least, you can form words using acronyms.  Just think about how much easier it would be to say that you belong to (skib-wee) vs saying each letter in SCBWI?  Don’t like that one?  People sometimes forget that awol is an acronym.

Having a character create a new word would be one way to show your readers what is important to him.  In fact, it was so important that he had to come up with a new, more specific word to show others how he felt.  Maybe this is something that you can use in your own story.  Check out McKean’s talk below and be sure to click on the link for her list of readings on the topic.





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